Vick, Nike, and America’s Birthday


Happy Fourth Bird fans. Hope you’re relaxing or blowing something up somewhere.

Usually, this holiday serves as a reminder to all the dawdling, procrastinating Americans out there that summer is going by quicker than any of us realize, and we’re running out of time to rent that beach house or go camping or accomplish any of the other things we promised ourselves throughout this long, cold winter. The Fourth is a wake-up call, and it usually leads to some of the funnest, most-action packed days of summer.

The same, hopefully, will be said about the NFL lockout. In the past couple of months, more than one “expert analyst” called July Fourth the D-Day for labor negotiations, our last chance to hammer out a new CBA without potentially risking games in the 2011 season. Obviously, a deal has not been done. And it won’t be by day’s end or any time this week. We’re looking at two, maybe three weeks minimum before a deal gets done, and the possibility of it all falling apart at any moment without warning. Here’s hoping the Fourth serves as a reminder to owners, players, and league officials too. Time is running out. Get it done now, or you’ll regret it for a year.

In other news, Mike Vick has officially signed a new endorsement deal with Nike, the sports giant and marketing monster that previously sponsored his career with the Falcons for a reported $2 million per year, before severing ties with the player in 2007 following his arrest on dog fighting charges. No figures have been provided, but it’s assumed Vick’s new deal would be worth at least as much as his most recent one. The news, predictably, was like a boot kick the hornets’ nest of Vick haters (and Cowboy fans) throughout the country, who are now lambasting Nike in force for “condoning animal abuse” in their immoral resigning of the controversial Eagles’ QB.

I wasn’t working here (for Fansided) in 2009, when Vick was originally signed and the debate – forgive the man or condemn the crime – first raged so heavily. So I’m pretty sure I’ve never even discussed my views about number 7 in print yet. They’re not complicated. As an Eagles fan, I could give a crap less about someone’s life or actions off the field. First and foremost in my mind, as always, is whether or not the guy can play. Can he help us win games? Does he give us a chance of winning a Superbowl? The Steelers have had similar issues with their own number 7, and it seems they’ve chosen to respond to them in the same way. Can he win us games? Is he worth the trouble?

After that, all I’m concerned with are the potential distractions. No true Eagle fan will ever forget the 2005 season, how T.Ono literally bankrupted a Super Bowl team by acting like an idiot and creating the biggest media circus – and eventually the biggest circus – Philadelphia had seen in a long, long time. Distractions do matter, and I think Andy Reid’s handling of the Michael Vick show has been downright flawless. Sign him as the number 3 quarterback, then just prior to the season switch him to two so he can sub in on wildcat plays. Six, seven plays a week tops, and the media storm eventually died down. Then, when it was time for McNabb to go, Reid made it clear that he was going to be starting Kevin Kolb – the unassuming, rather quiet Texan dink and dunker – not Michael Vick. The rest, of course, is recent history.

But because of all this, Vick was able to transition from an unemployed ex-con to the incumbent franchise quarterback of one of the biggest franchises in American Sports without so much as a question by any serious sports media outlet. He worked his way up the old-fashioned way, the hard way; and by the time he was sitting firmly on the top rung of the ladder, he had become so undeniably good on the field – almost surreal at times – that only a fool would have criticized Andy Reid for paying him $16 million a year.

Through the very nature of his ascent – his nose to the grindstone attitude, paying dues and sitting quietly on the bench, then stepping up big when called upon – and the inexorable, exponential growth in both the quality of his game and his attitude toward the sport, Vick spared both the Eagles and the NFL any criticism they may have received for “immorally” paying a dog-killer millions of dollars a year and sending him to the Pro Bowl. If Andy Reid, instead, had immediately started Vick and traded Donovan to Buffalo, the whirlwind would have descended squarely on the Eagles. But thanks to his shrewd maneuvering and Vick’s awe-inspiring resurrection, the criticism has now been shifted to Nike, corporate American, and any potential sponsors who may or may not want to take a chance on the “New Vick”.

But this is the Fourth of July. American’s 235th Birthday Bash. We’re celebrating a nation that recognized injustice, wrong and right, and set out to fight it. Our nation is one giant correction for a system of government – a way of life – that we had been living and eventually understood was wrong. And still, throughout our young history, this country has made mistakes. Huge, huge mistakes. Usually, we eventually recognize them and many stout-hearted patriots are willing to fight hard to overturn them. Then we fix them, and do our best to move on.

Michael Vick will never be able to erase his history. Neither will he be able to erase the kind of neighborhood he grew up in, the culture that spawned his criminal behavior and his athletic prowess simultaneously. No one can eradicate the NFL, and how it gives 21 year old men who grew up in ghettos and tenements tens of millions of dollars sometimes the day they graduate college, then expects them to act responsibly, completely unsupervised.

None of these are very good excuses for what Vick did, and as a life-long dog lover it’s hard to look past the crimes his friends committed on his behalf. But as an American – hell, as a young man – I must be willing to forgive, if only in the hope that others will be willing to forgive me. Because I’ve made mistakes, I continue to make mistakes, and my country is no better. I need to believe that change is possible, that a person or a nation with such an egregious track record can still figure things out, can still turn it all around. That hard work, patience, regret, appreciation, opportunity and maybe a little bit of luck are all anybody ever needs to completely change their life. To put it all behind. To begin again.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. And may all the rest try to relax, stop judging so much, and enjoy their holiday weekend. Let us all remember just what it is we’re celebrating.